Assessment (Day 18/365)

Not that anyone is going to call me out on it, but I haven’t lived up to my end of the bargain this week. I haven’t done a creative thing every day.

Well, of course not, people will say. You had to take Grayson up to Guilford. You had things to do, emotions to deal with, huge rainstorms to drive through with stinging tears rolling down your cheeks, etc., etc.

But it seems to me that part of a project like this is that you do something every day. It’s part of the discipline of the thing. And I haven’t found that discipline and that rhythm yet.

I completely understand that the creative process requires downtime. Even when I’m not sitting in front of my computer or music notebook, I can be mulling over what to do next with “Milky Way.” Often your best ideas come from after you’ve walked away from the problem. That’s happened to me all the time.

Still, that downtime can be spent on other projects, which is why I have tried to get several things going: William Blake, the symphony, the 341 poem. And this week I’ve just slacked off.

One of my biggest weaknesses, and you’ll hear me whine about this a lot in the coming year, is that my abilities as a composer are really hit or miss. I have no formal training in composition, so I’m usually floundering my way through whatever it is I’m working on. What this means for the daily discipline thing is that I am unable to sit down and work for a quick ten minutes, say, on the “Milky Way” problem because I don’t have a trained understanding of the mechanics of the solution. That is, knowing that I have to extend the climactic nature of the passage, delaying it for another eight measures (for example), is no help at all when I don’t have the knowledge set of how to do that harmonically.

Ah well, as dear Sammy Beckett always said, “Keep going. Going on. Call that going? Call that on?#8221;

8 thoughts on “Assessment (Day 18/365)

  1. What you have been doing regularly and fairly consistently is documenting or logging this enterprise. This responsibility for some kind of ongoing communication is where your consistency lies. It is the lived compulsion you desire for your “creative life.” No dark god (perhaps having to do with ideals and expectations) is hovering over your journaling like it is over your regimen of daily “creativity,” so the documenting and reflecting is an easy and natural thing. You may have charged yourself with too exalted a task.

    I found a little book at a discount book store on our way back from St. Simon’s. It’s a collection of “crypto-quotes.” A quotation and it’s attribution are subjected to some system of letter substitution, and the task is to decode each quote. I happily work on these while I wait to pick up Molly from school. Some are harder than others and take more trial and error, but my methods are fairly consistent; it’s become a pleasant little routine. I enjoy working on them each day because I no longer attach this thought to the project: I will prove yet again how truly clever I am. It is no longer an attempt to prove anything; no matter how difficult the puzzle, I figure if I apply the methods sooner or later the solution emerges. So far it has. So the illusion I am able to re-enforce is not the display my mental prowess (playing that charade has so much attendant anxiety that I would eventually have to stop) but the illusion of having a method which eventually pays off (so far no anxiety since there are no time limits to my trial and error).

    Your daily goal in blogging is to communicate and encapsulate, to render meaningful–you are in a state of relationship. Perhaps if you defined your desire to “create” everyday more as an opportunity to be in relation to something (a method or imaginary companion, perhaps), some of the pressure would be reduced. Were I crazy enough to take upon myself such a compositional challenge and deny myself access to digital sound processing, I would work with the four-voice idea: soprano line and/or bass line come first, then fill in alto and tenor; decide ahead of time about cadence effects (to have or not and dominant or not) and decide if you want the whole thing to work as a canon or not. Then limit yourself to 2, 3 or 4 measures and 0,1,2 or 3 time signatures. There you are. Let this simple method be your relationship

  2. My ongoing communication may be my consistency, but what I really want to be responsible for is the generation of daily stuff, dreck even. It’s like the hoary old tale Andy tells the art majors about the instructor who divided the class into halves: students in one half would receive a grade on one perfect pot which they would produce by the end of the semester. The other half’s grade would come from the number of pots they produced; quality would be irrelevant. And of course, by the end of the semester, the half that simply churned out the stuff produced far better quality pots than the ones who labored over producing a few perfect ones.

    That’s what I think my goal is: to churn out stuff, whether it’s good or bad. The blog is simply a way to hold myself accountable for producing the stuff, and perhaps think out loud about how I did it.

    I’m not sure I see how putting myself in “relation” to something would reduce the pressure to actually create something. Of course, ::Reader’s Digest::, I’m not sure I understand what I would even do in order to do that. Talk to me about that.

  3. I’m thinking of the Ned Rorem quote: Create first, comprehend later. The daily stuff (how do you italicize these words in the comment section?) need not carry the weight that goes with something being called Art. Unless Art can refer to something light and non-reflective. Didn’t you send me the link to Richard Foreman’s journals? He scribbles such “notes to self” daily and then returns to them when he decides to make a theatre piece…

    Judgement, direction and discernment need not be at work in your daily efforts to produce stuff. As you say, Good or Bad. Your blogging is an ongoing effort in which, I assume, you are less concerned about literary weight and more interested in putting down the thought, and the next, and so on… The production of stuff can have that same “notary” feel. Often stuff is just a recorded observation. Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes come to mind as I think of stuff. He had to spend time accumulating stuff in order to then have material to arrange and juxtapose. I would imagine the process of accumulation was enjoyable, compulsive, undeliberate, a lived routine. A kind of creative act in itself.

    An example from the world of sound synthesis. I have software for digital sound synthesis. It’s GUI is designed to look and work like a classic modular synthesizer from the early pre-Moog days. It allows for the pure exploration of “synthesizer theory” (which I had to spend some time reading up on). It allows me to play the “what would happen if” game; it also allows for surprises and happy accidents. If I make something that pleases me, I save a sound file and save the “patch” which allowed me to produce the sound. This playing and saving activity is fun and does not take any kind of toll on me. It’s “creative” and absorbing and often the goals are ill-defined or non-existent beyond the “what would happen if” impulse.

    These sound files accumulate. I’ve got bunches of them, a library of them. I have production software which allows me to take these sound files and begin to “arrange” them in various ways. I can “compose” with them, add other musical elements, explore structure, go pop, go abstract, go expressionist, whatever. This process, too, is exploratory and tentative. At a certain point I can interact with the software in a way similar to a sculptor working with material–very tactile, immediate response, feedback, etc. Whatever is going to take shape begins to take shape gradually; I can limit my interests to a very small manageable field. Time winds up doing much of the “important” work.

    Find a daily process which allows you to connect to something or to relate to something enjoyable. A muse to my way of thinking is not the source of little gems or nuggets (yes, there is an anal flavor to that image–take note) which you then put down as your own; the muse gives a standing offer to converse, to confide, to giggle, to play, to collect, to reflect, to collaborate on nonsense. You make time to participate in the relationship for its own sake. No “gifts” are in the offing. Those kinds of “gifts” are distributed and cooed over in the water closet. The muse is a way to simply enjoy opening a channel. The resulting “stuff” is precious and pertinent, but will always need further processing, perhaps, before it’s a finished bit of Art.

  4. Actually, you are entirely correct. I am focusing on products which interest me: William Blake, the symphony, the poem (not so much), etc. If I were truly interested in living Andy’s little fable, I would just do stuff every day without any concern whether it fit into my projects.

    I wonder which it is I want to do?

  5. A couple of thoughts occur:

    Do we have creative “muscles”? If so, that supports this idea that more use is more important that singular perfect use. It occurs to me that this viewpoint seems terribly brutal/unartful/dull/crude compared to Marc’s last comments. Well, with the possible exception of the water closet bit anyway. Just the same, is there validity to it? Does mainstream culture risk the total atrophy of our creative self through non-use? Understand, I would never consider the other posters here to be “mainstream”. As for me, I would judge myself dangerously so, at least on the creative front.

    Second thought: on reading the tease of the many pots/single pot parable, I couldn’t help visualizing the possible damage the assignment of Marc to the single-pot group would do to his psyche.

    “Hey Marc, we want you to spend the next two weeks writing only a single tune. Please make it perfect, and no more than 8 bars. By the way, make sure you abstain from other acts of creativity during the experiment. This includes any form of prose, dance, music, or general theoretical speculation. Have a nice day!”

  6. I also shared that little teaching tale with my students at GHP, after witnessing them essentially refuse to expose their tongues for an improvisation exercise.

    They smiled and nodded and wondered what making pots had to do with show business…they are still licking the wounds.

    It’s scary to think that I could obsess over finding a single tune for weeks on end. I call it option shock. It’s like going to a video rental place that has nothing but crap, and the same crap it had the week before when you were there, and scanning the shelves trying to find the ONE THING, the one precious overlooked gem that you spent too much time searching for a week before. I like Satie’s phrase “furniture music.” My interpretation: forget being distinctive and singular and put something in the room for people to sit on. Stop f####ng around!

  7. You misread me Marc.

    The damage I would assume to occur would not be from the obsession of seeking the pinnacle of creative expression. Rather it would be the denial of the opportunity to create constantly and by diverse means for diverse ends. The basic phenomenon is like one of the first acting exercises I was ever asked to complete. “Sit in this chair and think about the word I am about to tell you, but under no circumstance are you to ‘act’ that word or in fact have any physical reaction to it. Your word is ‘anger’.”

  8. If I’ve created the impression that I constantly engage in creative activities, that I have so many pots simmering at all times, that important people are on call waiting, etc., then my con is successful. Dale has “gone public” with a struggle common to many folk, I think, myself included, who wonder if it is perhaps a certain lack in daily routine that has led to exile in the arrid provinces. And is it just a throw of the dice, a certain contingency? Is it simply a matter of willing a change in daily habits? No, I don’t mean exile in terms of “fame and fortune.” I see it as feeling oppressed by the thought that “other people” seem to enjoy a more consistent, even daily, calendar of creative activity and engagement. It has also been described, I think, as “existential guilt,” a sense of guilt over the life you are not leading, over options not chosen.

    The reference to the acting exercise is an interesting one. Depending on how I look at it, I always either see it as a clever way to illustrate an idea for the student or as a way for the teacher to structure a position as “master of paradox.” Or in a more Metallica-esque vein, “master of puppets.” “You may think that creativity is willful in acting, but its not; it’s really about not being in control. And I use you to illustrate my point.” I realize, too, that it is trying to invite the student to rely less on the agency of the ego, to not “act” but “be.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. But how about this: what if it turns out that digital technology ultimately allows for the “don’t act but be” effect (the “truth” effect?) to be realized in a product without spending large amounts of money and time investing in actors who have been schooled in how to bring about this effect? What if the Masters stop asking for the “truth” effect from human actors? What are these “beings” going to do? Continue to sit by the phone thinking about the word “anger?” Or find other ways to create? Suddenly, acting out the word “anger” looks like a pretty rewarding prospect.

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